Monday, Sept. 28--skies had cleared and life in Panama City returned to normal. At Tyndall AFB that morning, a pilot reported for for duty in preparation for a mid-day test-flight of his F86-D Sabre jet.
The pilot was 22-year-old 2nd Lt. Edwin Gorbet, son of a Long Beach, California firefighter. As a youth, Gorbet had been a stand-out high school athlete and a member of his church choir. He had been in the Air Force two years and was on temporary duty at Tyndall AFB to complete flight training.
Even so, while here Edwin became engaged to a local girl he'd met at the Cove Baptist Church, and sang gospel songs on a local radio station. At 12:07pm on that day, Gorbet climbed alone aboard his F86, pushed back the throttle, kicked in the afterburners, and pointed his jet skyward.
Within seconds he was airborne...but minutes later lights on the control panel began to flash. The air compressor had caught fire and fuel was leaking from the tank. Gorbet knew what this meant. To save his life he had to eject. Below, Gorbet could see the campus of Jinks Junior High School and the hundreds of students outside on school grounds, milling about on their lunch break.
Edwin Gorbet's last conscious decision was to not eject at that moment, but to stay with his doomed craft and attempt to steer it south over St. Andrews Bay. An instant later, when the jet's air-fuel mixture reached critical mass, the F86 exploded in mid-air and a huge fireball rained debris over hundreds of acres and rattled windows for miles.
The F86 missed the campus of Jinks Junior High, just as the young pilot must have prayed it would. Instead, the jet and the last remains of Edwin Gorbet came down on the grounds of the Panama City Garden Club, just paces from the spot of the club's planned memorial. ...
The Panama City News Herald, in stories over the next several days, hailed Gorbet's heroism, and a Garden Club member was quoted as saying that the name Edwin Gorbet would most certainly be added to the club's memorial.
And for over half a century, that's where the story ended.
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